Girl Mary: A Novel by Petru Popescu
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Pub. Date: September 2009, 368pp
ARC Review copy from Simon & Schuster
The Burton Review Rating:
"With his empire in crisis, Augustus orders a young Roman spy to find a sign of his divinely inspired power. Concealing his real name, Pontius Pilate enters the Judean desert seeking an unknown miracle. The moment he meets the striking adolescent Mary, he senses that he is in the presence of someone magical.
Mary, vigorous, spiritual, and charming, is a girl like many other teenage girls: full of passions and weaknesses, surrounded by her loving family and her close friends, steeped in the mystic traditions of the Jews — territory that defies Roman comprehension. The young Pilate isn't wrong in believing that Mary is remarkable. On the verge of blossoming womanhood, Mary's world will soon open to love — and to the miraculous.
Full of mystical realism and set against the lushly reimagined settings of the biblical world, Girl Mary is the love story of the beautiful girl, naïve and yet complicated, who beguiled everyone — even God — with her soulful simplicity, and whose destiny would change civilization in untold ways."
This is a unique look at what life could have been like for Mary, the mother of Jesus, before she became the mother of Jesus. The points of view change from the initial third person narrative and then to Mary's first person narrative which disrupted the flow but is fastidious for the storytelling purposes. And what a story. Along with Mary's early life as the author sees it, this is full of the politics of the times, the way that the Jews were treated and how Mary's family were forced out of their homes in Nazareth by Syrians and King Herod. It features the general ideas of Judaism, Torah, includes Mary calling God Adonai or Hashem, and we learn about the general customs of living during those times. It helps shed light on how far back the Jewish intolerance was in earlier times, and how deep the prejudice was.
The author portrays how Mary of Nazareth meets Joseph, her beloved young wood carver, just when Mary was coping with the fact that she was getting older at 17 and she did not have an immediate prospect of marriage. Just as a young love story is told, Mary similarly falls in love with Joseph, but she has doubts about what to expect from marriage. She does not want to share Joseph, as was custom those days for multiple wives, and Mary puts her foot down. Mary speaks with God, and they have some shocking conversations. I enjoyed the fact that she was portrayed more as a real, honest, tangible person, but those who are deeply religious will not enjoy the characterization of the stubborn head-strong and somewhat selfish girl.
"Are you angry? Hashem, are you? Speak to me, don't hold me in dire fear that I insulted you. All I want, Hashem is to help!"
He didn't say anything.
Yet I felt that he wasn't angry.
He was so quiet, so attentive. He'd opened worlds and parted skies to be able to hear what I was saying.
My tears overcame me...I was no one, but I was being listened to.
So I was the one, for a brief instant, just by desiring to to be the one. He did not turn me into a pillar of salt, he didn't even scold me. He let me feel I was the one."
Along with learning Mary's surprising traits, we are introduced to Pontius Pilate. He is referred to as the Roman in Mary's eyes, and as a hero to Mary's family. He is the one who brings them out of exile, but he is actually a super agent of sorts, working for Caesar August and spying for the king. This is also his story, and the events of him bringing Mary's family back to Nazareth.
His intentions are selfish, but he is intrigued by Mary. He is also sort of a philosopher in his mind as he struggles to understand the meaning behind God, the myriad of different beliefs at the time. He is not portrayed as an overly sinister person, though he harbors very ill feelings towards Caesar Augustus for killing his parents. He becomes a protector of Mary and her family and even Mary finds him equally intriguing, just as she does Joseph. Joseph has an interesting background in this rendition as well, with his father and he being struck by lightening on the mountain.
Not written with the reverent and holy prose one would expect given the subject matter, this is indeed a novel that is written to be read in a casual way. There is some language, and sexual meanings and references to sexual behavior but it is done casually and not too explicitly but takes a while to get used to. There is also violence, mentions of rape, and other sexual connotations with body parts both female and male. This is not a biography of Mary, this is a fictional story that the author created using his gift for unique storytelling with biblical characters.
Those looking for a religious or inspiring read could be disappointed but those looking for a creative story using these interesting characters may not be, however. I was intrigued by the visions by Mary, the settings, and the story of how Mary and Joseph finally get their wish to be wed. There are mystical aspects that add drama to this compelling account, but it was rather dry at other times. Overall, I can recommend this to those eager for fictional accounts regarding Mary and the times, as I found the politics of the times regarding Judaism were thought-provoking. This novel is a conflicting look at what could have been, and gives a voice to the younger girl within Mary, that we otherwise only know as the Mother of God. Girl Mary is definitely a thorough look at the affects of the earliest persecution of the Jewish and sheds light on the occurrence of those atrocities.
The author Petru Popescu spent nearly ten years researching for this novel, and it shows with the imagery, various themes and the customs of the people that he visualized for us. The author has written several works, including Almost Adam, Amazon Beaming, The Return, and The Oasis. This review is of an ARC copy. Purchase through Amazon here.